There are a few things rattling my brain as I stroll the palm lined streets of Bahir Dar and gaze out at lovely Lake Tana. First, is I forgot to note the commotion that I and my new found Aussie friends riding toward Addis created in that small town yesterday. As the pictures illustrate we gathered the usual audience while performing roadside. But the performance was actually more dramatic from our point of view. With two narrow lanes of tarmac running through these small towns, the lorries and the traffic moving north from and south to the nations capital can be impeded by the mass of humanity standing and watching three white folk on big motorcycles. As the crowd bled onto the tarmac and man in a dirty brown uniform with a firm grip on his “dula” would raise the one meter thing stick and smack down on the backs and shoulders of those loitering in traffic’s way. With the lanes cleared one young boy I surmised to be seven or eight years stood a couple feet into the tarmac with his mouth gaped open and snot oozing from his nose was dumfounded as perhaps we were the only white man he’s seen in his life. Just gazing and staring with that running nose, the kind a mother wants to wipe and then take a little saliva on her thumb to clean the crud dried there. But our traffic obsessed transit cop raised his dula and with a force that would make Chuck Norris jealous whacked the poor kids straight on the top of his head. He went running away leaving a river of tears behind. Good god.
“Squadron” of pelicans takes a break from flight hoping for handouts from the Lake Tana locals.
Beautiful flowers in the courtyard of Ghion Hotel in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
Where’s Ronnie “B” when I need him. What kinda birds are they?
They flew freely and in colorful glory around the lake and my hotel.
With digs set up lakeside at the Ghion Hotel it’s important to note that at 3,500 sq. km and as the source of the Blue Nile which flows nearly 3,600 miles to the Mediterranean Sea , Lake Tana is Ethiopia’s largest lake. Even better, on 20 of the 37 islands that dot the lake sit monasteries most from the 16th or 17th century but some pre-dating Christianity. And while the lure of these monasteries can’t be understated, it’s concerns about Egypt that have weighed heavy since leaving Addis.
When embarking on my journey some two and a half years early, I had arranged for a carnet de passage — essentially a “passport” for my motorcycle. Not required in central and south America, the carnet is indispensable when making border crossing with a motor vehicle at most African and Asian countries. In America carnets, which are governed by international laws and treaties, are administered by the Canadian Automobile Association. Each country I bring Doc into wants to be sure that when I exit said country that Doc comes with me. If not, the motorcycle would be subject to duty and taxes. The carnet through entry and exit stamps is proof of exit of the country. Without an exit stamp the country would be eligible to receive the normal duty for a motor vehicle import. As such, to get a carnet I had to deposit with the CAA nearly the entire value of my motorcycle, because some countries the duty is 70 or 80 percent. The catch here is that every country you plan to temporarily import a vehicle must be identified. The country with the highest percentage of duty dictates the amount of the deposit. Should you try to enter a country in which you didn’t declare ahead of time it is likely that they either will prohibit the vehicle from entering or demand to hold a deposit of the duty amount while traveling in that country.
When I started this journey I had no plans to visit Egypt. Too bad. Because Egypt is notorious for the most backward and bureaucratic policies and processes for nearly everything — especially the importation of motor vehicles. I’ve met other travelers heading south who had to alter plans because they were refused entry into Egypt. Others have waited two weeks for paperwork and stamps while their vehicles sat in a customs holding tank. Still, others with their papers perfectly in order still waited more than a week before the vehicle was released.
I had no Egypt declaration on my carnet. And while I’ve noted that I’ve learned to be an extremely patient traveler, I didn’t look forward to Egypt’s bureaucracy. So while in Nairobi I contacted Suzanne at the CAA and discussed the problem. She too agreed it would better to be prepared rather than wing it when arriving at the Egyptian border. It would cost me $200 to update my carnet. And fortunately I would not have to advance any further funds as my deposit on file is sufficient to cover Egypt’s fiscal requirement. But would I get into Egypt. Back in Nairobi I was still unsure about the Sudan visa. So I asked her to prepare the carnet but before going through the motions of payment and shipping, I’d need to confirm that Egypt would be a reality.
With a Sudan visa in hand, I need to pull the trigger and get the new carnet. Where would it be shipped? IN order to keep moving it would have to be Khartoum, the capital of Sudan and the confluence of both the white and blue Nile rivers. For the first time since I can remember on this journey, I’d have to schedule and plan my travel carefully. With only a seven day transit visa, I had to make sure to be in Khartoum on a day Fed Ex would be open, plus I needed to enter Sudan on a Thursday. Why? Because my route would take me along the Nile River through the Nubian desert in northern Sudan to a tiny outpost on the banks of Lake Nassar called Wadi Halfa. Once each week a ferry boat crosses lake Nassar and takes almost 500 people to Aswan, Egypt. If I did not make that ferry, I would be shipped back to Khartoum, or put in a Sudanese holding tank for violation of visa privileges. Neither of these scenarios sounded good to me.
So I would have to cross the border on a Thursday or Friday at the latest. This would give me six or seven days to get my updated Carnet from the Fed Ex office in downtown Khartoum and get to Wadi Halfa to board that train. Frankly, I’m disappointed that I won’t have more time in Sudan, but happy that I’m one of the only Americans to have the opportunity to travel through the Sudan.
So I sit lakeside penciling potential dates, itineraries and options for my journey northward to Sudan and Egypt.
Oh. And there are a few things on my mind about Sudan, too! That’ll have wait for another post.
Doc in a very secure parking space outside the door of my bungalow at Ghion.